Competition for Broadway’s biggest prize will now be a hard-fought race between four artistically ambitious musicals, as the nominators snubbed several popular commercial ventures and instead showered affection on musicals nurtured by nonprofit organizations in the United States and Britain.
The leading candidates for best new musical — the most coveted prize with the biggest box-office impact — remain two heart-wrenching musicals: “Dear Evan Hansen,” about an anxiety-ridden adolescent who insinuates himself into the life of a grieving family, and “Come From Away,” about a Canadian town that sheltered stranded travelers after the terrorist attacks of 2001.
But “The Great Comet,” a raucous and eye-popping production that marries an avant-garde creative team with a top-selling pop star, dominated the day Tuesday, winning nominations not only for Mr. Groban, who taught himself to play accordion for the role, but also for two other members of its cast, Denée Benton and Lucas Steele, and much of its creative team.
And “Groundhog Day,” which overcame a last-minute anterior cruciate ligament tear by its star, Andy Karl, just three nights before opening, also had a good day, and will now hope that the nominations provide some help at the box office, where this musical has been lagging behind the other nominated contenders.
The nominators gave no nods to one of the season’s costliest new musicals, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and only two to “Anastasia.” Both are adapted from popular sources — “Charlie” from the Roald Dahl novel as well as the Gene Wilder film, and “Anastasia” from an animated film — and both are selling well at the box office.
All four nominated shows had long developmental journeys to Broadway. “The Great Comet” began at Ars Nova, was then staged in two tents in Manhattan, and then at the American Repertory Theater in Massachusetts before heading to Broadway; “Come From Away” had pre-Broadway productions in La Jolla, Calif.; Seattle; Washington; and Toronto; “Dear Evan Hansen” started at Arena Stage in Washington and then moved to Second Stage in New York; and “Groundhog Day” was started at the Old Vic Theater in London.
There were 37 Tony-eligible plays and musicals on Broadway this season, but two performances have been indisputable must-sees: 23-year-old Ben Platt in a devastating star-is-born turn as a decompensating adolescent in “Dear Evan Hansen,” and 71-year-old Ms. Midler in a delirious career-capping turn as a meddlesome matchmaker in “Hello, Dolly!”
They were each nominated for awards on Tuesday, he as best leading actor in a musical, she as best leading actress in a musical.
Can either of them be beat?
Ms. Midler seems like a lock. The reviews were nearly unanimous in their praise, despite some concerns about the quality of her singing voice; audiences have been worshipful and are paying top dollar to see her (premium seats are being sold for $748).
Her competitors include two much-honored Broadway mainstays, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, facing off in the awards derby for playing the rival cosmetics executives Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden in “War Paint.”
Mr. Platt has been universally acclaimed, and has accomplished the rare feat of creating an original role that speaks to young people. His main challenger is Mr. Karl, who stars as the caddish weatherman Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day.”
Mr. Karl’s magnetic performance has come to seem almost heroic, given that he tore his anterior cruciate ligament three days before the show opened and is performing in a knee brace.
Other men nominated in lead roles: Mr. Groban, wowing critics and fans with his Broadway debut in “Great Comet,” the television star Mr. Hyde Pierce, daffy and winning as the feed store owner in “Hello, Dolly!,” and Christian Borle as the gay man trying to juggle his relationships with his ex-wife, his son and his lover in a moving revival of “Falsettos.”
The unknown back story of a Middle East peace pact. The impact of deindustrialization on manufacturing workers in Pennsylvania. The ill-fated journey to Broadway of a Yiddish play with a lesbian subplot. And an imagined sequel to a great 19th-century drama.
Each of the contenders for the best new play Tony marks the writer’s Broadway debut — and each of the playwrights is American. Brits will not dominate this prestigious category this year.
The front-runners are “Oslo,” by Mr. Rogers, an unexpectedly crackling drama about a Norwegian couple who helped broker the 1993 Middle East peace accords, and “Sweat,” by Ms. Nottage, which depicts the impact of a declining manufacturing plant on friends and family in Reading, Pa. Not to be counted out: “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” by Mr. Hnath, which was the last show of the season to open, and did so to uniformly positive reviews, and “Indecent,” by the Pulitzer-winning playwright Ms. Vogel, which reconstructs the controversy over “The God of Vengeance,” which opened on Broadway in 1922.
The last Broadway season — the one with “Hamilton,” “The Color Purple,” “On Your Feet!” and “Allegiance” — was widely celebrated for its diversity, and all four acting awards for musicals went to black actors. This season, the successes were less flashy, but still noteworthy.
“Jitney,” the only one of August Wilson’s 10-play Century Cycle never before staged on Broadway, was given a sterling production by the Manhattan Theater Club. The playwright, the director and the entire cast were African-American.
Ms. Nottage, an African-American playwright who was unable to get “Ruined,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning play about rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Broadway, this year got there with “Sweat.” The play’s critical reception was mixed, but it won Ms. Nottage a second Pulitzer Prize.
And a revival of “Miss Saigon,” with a predominantly Asian-American cast, served as a reminder of how much attitudes toward casting have changed: The leading role of the Engineer, controversially originated by a white British actor, Jonathan Pryce, in 1991, has since been played by actors of Asian heritage, and the revival stars a Filipino-American, Jon Jon Briones, who was in the original British ensemble.
Now that the nominations have been announced, it’s up to the voters. Over the next five weeks, they must finish seeing all the nominated shows, and then have until 6 p.m., June 9, to submit their ballots.
Who are the voters? About 840 people are eligible to cast ballots — theater investors and producers, as well as actors, directors, designers, journalists and others whose economic or professional lives intersect with Broadway. Many of them have financial interests in one or more of the nominated productions.
There is campaigning, of a sort. Producers send glossy souvenir books, and often compendiums of positive reviews, to remind voters of what they’ve seen, and some send gag gifts as well. Shows that opened in the fall — “The Great Comet” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” for example — invite voters who attended months ago to see them again.
Nominees, meanwhile, show up or perform at gala fund-raisers for nonprofit organizations that have Tony voters in the crowd. And there is an invariable battle for media coverage as well.
A few folks can start making room on their shelves now.
The Tony Awards administration committee announced Thursday that James Earl Jones, a two-time Tony winner (for “The Great White Hope” and “Fences”) will be given a special Tony for lifetime achievement in the theater.
Baayork Lee, an actress, choreographer and director best known as a member of the original cast of “A Chorus Line,” will receive the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award, which honors volunteerism, in recognition of her work with the with the National Asian Artists Project, which she founded.
Dallas Theater Center will receive the regional theater Tony Award. Two longtime general managers, Nina Lannan and Alan Wasser, will receive Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theater. And a special Tony for sound design will be presented to Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin for their work on Simon McBurney’s one-man show, “The Encounter.”